Cardinal Baldisseri’s ‘Evolution of Dogma’ vs St. Pius X’s Oath Against Modernism


Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.47.31In response to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri’s comment that “dogma has its own evolution”, a reader on my Register blog aptly quoted Pope St. Pius X’s ‘Oath Against Modernism’.

The head of the Synod of Bishops secretariat, responsible for organizing the highly controversial October Synod on the Family, told Aleteia last week: “There’s no reason to be scandalized that there is a cardinal or a theologian saying something that’s different than the so-called ‘common doctrine.’ This doesn’t imply a going against. It means reflecting. Because dogma has its own evolution; that is a development, not a change.”

The contrast between his comments and St. Pius’ ‘Oath Against Modernism’ is striking, and worth highlighting given the confusion surrounding this synod and the engineering that seems to be taking place behind the scenes.

Here below is the oath with relevant passages in bold:


Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.

To be sworn to by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries.

I . . . . firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day. And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:19), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated: Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time. Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time. Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.

Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm. Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.

Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.

I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God. . .


Paris Terror Attacks: ‘What They Did Is in the Name of Islam’


Courtesy of Father Samir

VATICAN CITY — The terrorist attack by Islamist militants on the offices of the irreligious French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 7 brought widespread condemnation. Twelve civilians, including two policemen, one of whom was Muslim, were killed by two masked gunmen, and several others were wounded.

The atrocity was just the latest in increasingly common attacks by Islamic fundamentalists around the world. On Jan. 10, international media reported that up to 2,000 civilians in and around the town of Baga, Nigeria, were slaughtered by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

In an extensive interview with the Register on Jan. 8, Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, a native Egyptian, explains the connection between Islam and the attacks, the need for control over what imams preach and the importance of a recent call from Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for Islam to undergo a reformation. This is Part I of the interview.


Father Samir, what was your reaction to the attack? Were you in any way surprised?

It was a shock. How, in the heart of Paris, could they do something like that? It is all really incredible. So it was, really, a shock for everyone, and the reaction was very clear: Thousands of people in every city protested, and so on.

Also, the fact that it was two French people of Algerian origin who did it means that integration has not been achieved. This is a major point: the problem of integration of Muslims in Western culture. There’s a kind of rejection, not by all people, but some Muslims today — and I stress today — to reject Western culture. They consider it bad, anti-Muslim or not religious. It wasn’t like that in the past.

I remember when I studied in the early 1960s in France, all the [other students] were Muslims, because it was an Islamic-studies class at university. I was the only Christian, and there was absolutely no difference in behavior. They were French but had the Muslim religion. I wasn’t French, but I was a Christian. They were Muslims. That was all.


So what has changed since then?

In the 1970s, we saw that, in the Middle East — I was in upper Egypt in 1971, 1972 — Saudi Arabia started introducing the veil in girls’ schools. … It started like that. Then, we have seen this movement spreading to other Arab countries, to other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, which was the model of a kind of secular city and certainly open to all religions. Slowly, they became fanatics more and more. In Malaysia, too, and in other parts of Asia, and now in Europe, there’s that same movement.


What has fueled that fanaticism over the past 40 years?

We could say the Palestinian conflict with Israel was one factor, but this was long ago. What has changed is that Europe, and the West in general, has become viewed as irreligious, and this perception has grown more and more, especially through new legislation and matters concerning sexuality, which are seen as totally unacceptable.

But another reason is that the rise of this fundamentalist movement has been helped by the money of oil-producing countries — they could buy anybody — nations and groups.

The Muslim Brotherhood started in Egypt in 1928, but under [Egyptian President] Abdel Nasser and his revolution in 1954 until his death [in 1970], he tried to work with them because the Muslim Brotherhood was more popular. They helped the poor in the suburbs of Cairo. So he tried, but then the Brotherhood became more and more fanatical. They said that women should not work but stay at home, that they should wear the veil, and so on. Nasser finally said: “We cannot work together. We are a normal society. We just want the development of Egypt.” So he then put them in prison, because they started to get aggressive; and many of them went to Saudi Arabia, where they started their propaganda and also absorbed the ideas of the Wahhabi Islamic movement, which is very fundamentalist. This is how the movement developed.

Back in Europe, what is happening? Charlie Hebdo published the caricatures, which were first published in Denmark. You remember, at that time, there was a strong reaction. I was in Beirut then, and they attacked the Christian quarters there, even if Christians had nothing to do with it. But they protested in that way because they considered the West as Christian — “A Western publication committed a blasphemy, so we avenge any Christian.”

Now, Charlie Hebdo, which is well known as a satirical journal with caricatures, did with Muhammed what they do with other religious leaders.


As with similar atrocities carried out by Islamists, many blame Islam and see such attacks as making a mockery of it being described as a “religion of peace.” What’s your view of this?

It must be clear that what they [fundamentalist Islamists] do, what they’ve done and what they did yesterday is in the name of Islam. To deny this is a lie. Why? Because every fundamentalist group had an imam or two issuing a fatwa [authorizing acts of violence] that gave them the permission. It’s not automatic. Someone who has authority — a religious person who has studied it — has the right to decide whether it’s permitted, is allowed to attack or not.

In Islam, you cannot attack simply anyone in the name of Islam. There must be a reason for that. The mufti — which means the one who gives the fatwa — has the right and task to say now it’s halal [permitted by Islamic law] or the opposite, that it’s haram [prohibited]. So they don’t do this in the name of Islam, but in the name of the Quran and Islam.

To go back to Charlie Hebdo and the Danish cartoon: They depicted Muhammed with a turban, and in the turban, there was a bomb. I asked my Muslim friend: How does Islam depict Muhammed? Usually with his sword. And we know there are two swords attributed to him, each one with a name, preserved in museums, one in Istanbul and the other somewhere else. And what is the symbol in Saudi Arabia? Two swords.

And how was Saudi Arabia born? It came about through an alliance in 1745 between Muhammed ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), a very rigorist Islamic preacher, and Muhammed Ibn Saud, a tribal chief, as Hamadi Redissi explains in his book. They fought against other Arab tribes and succeeded in dominating the whole of Arabia and in creating the Saudi Arabian state.

That means the development of Islam, in the beginning with the Prophet Muhammed and today with other countries, is continuing through violence, through the sword. Why do they criticize others for such images when they depict their religion as they do?

But, more deeply, this is a question of liberty of conscience, and this is something totally unknown. I can understand their wish to react, certainly. If someone is depicting Christ, St. Paul or any saint or pope in a bad way, I will react. But react how? In the same way? That’s the problem. We don’t have in the Arab and Muslim world the concept of liberty of conscience, that is, religious liberty. If you want to protest, do so, but according to the law. What happened on Wednesday was something very, very important, and it’s very dangerous. It means that these people, especially the two who did it, are two French people who didn’t integrate into the French system or vision. Instead of reacting against Charlie Hebdo by writing a rebuttal, they killed all journalists they could find!


Could you say that, on the contrary, the culture they lived in radicalized them?

Yes. And here is my question to Europe, whether it might be England, Belgium or France (I’m more careful to speak about the U.S., as I’m not used to it).

In Europe, the tendency is to speak of tolerance, and I find this word awful, really, because if I were a Muslim, I would not want to be “tolerated,” because I would not want to be “tolerated” as a Christian in my own country, Egypt. I am a citizen, full stop.

Whatever my religion, either I am a citizen or I am not. If I am a citizen, I agree and adopt the constitution, norms and culture of my country, whether I was born here or I chose it; but it’s my own choice, and I have to respect it.

But the problem is that, on one side, Muslims have difficulty accepting this vision. For them, Islam can only have the best law, because they think it’s coming from God. We know historically that it’s very human and that there is no law coming from God, but they pretend. They pretend that it’s the best one, that it surpasses any constitution. But I say, “No, it does not.”

On the other side, the West often has a problem with Islam. Westerners fear what they call today “Islamophobia.” I’m against this word because, etymologically, it means fear of Islam, not the aggression of Islam. Most people fear Islam when we see what is happening. But there are a lot of people in the West who are against Islam, and so governments are trying to reverse the situation, but in the wrong way.

The only way to solve the question is to say: “Here, we have certain norms. If you want to live here, whoever you are, whether you were born here or not, if you want to live here, you have to observe them; and not only the laws, but also what is considered normal.”


How much of what happened in Paris is evidence of what Pope Benedict XVI alluded to in his Regensburg address: Anti-religious, postmodern sentiment based on positivism and reason without faith is clashing with fundamentalists who have faith, but without reason?

Yes, and the question here is: Can we distinguish between faith and society?

The problem here not only involves Muslims, but, also, I see this in India, with Hindus, and elsewhere with other religions. They identify religion as a totality, and for that reason, it could become a totalitarianism, which is obviously a bad thing. This is happening with Islam, and it once happened with Christianity. It meant that to be Christian one had to act in certain ways in everything.

I am free to choose my culture and my way of life and free to sin every day if I want. This is my problem. If I pretend to be Christian, I am supposed to follow some norms, but nobody can oblige me to do so. If a person pretends to be Muslim, then he should follow his laws. He follows his fasting, tithing — that is his problem.

But Muslims don’t have this liberty, even today in the 21st century. If someone is eating during Ramadan and others see him, then he goes to prison. I’m not speaking here of the Middle Ages, I’m talking of 2015 — in Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and so on.

The distinction is between religion and faith: Religion is a totalitarian system; faith is a spiritual one. I’m free to do what I want, to write what I want, as long as I am not doing anything against the common law.

If someone writes a book to show that God is a man’s invention, I have the right to write another book against him. But I cannot say that I have the right to kill him or to hurt him because he is an atheist.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made a recent speech, accusing Muslims of being hostile to the entire world and urging Islam to be reformed or revolutionized. What is your reaction to this speech?

This is the opinion of most Muslims. I cannot give a percentage, but, certainly, 80% of people don’t want this pressure [exerted by Islamists]. They say: “Please let us live as we want.” We also have, in Egypt, rules and principles, and you cannot beat someone simply because you are angry. If you do that, you go to prison, as we have norms. So they say: “Why do you want to impose over me something else?”

El-Sissi is saying what many people are saying, a wish for a kind of secular city, but not secular in the meaning that there is no God or religious tradition: secular that means distinguishing between my faith and belief and my way of life.


What effect do you think his speech might have on the Muslim world?

I didn’t hear his speech, but if it’s as you say, then this is a positive step. Now, he is not so perfect. He put in prison journalists who were against him. This is unjust. I’m not defending him in all that he’s doing, but in Egypt, we are far from democracy, for hundreds of years, even in the last decades; forever, this has been the case. But we are trying in some ways to have more democracy. People, unfortunately, are not educated for democracy.

In Egypt and in other Arab countries, there is a 40% illiteracy rate. Some people cannot even sign their names. This means it’s difficult for them to judge, to say that al-Sisi is right on that point but wrong on another. They cannot do it, so how can they vote? They follow what they consider a “good voice,” namely imams. And that’s the big responsibility of Muslims.

I was invited Jan. 7 to the French embassy in Rome because a Muslim delegation from Paris was visiting — four imams came with a priest responsible for Christian-Muslim relations. I knew two of the imams, they’re very open-minded, and the other one as well. They were shocked by what happened in Paris. One of them lives in Paris and has just started creating a center to educate imams in France, because the problem is that the imams are sent by their countries — Morocco, Egypt, Turkey — with a different vision. They are also very often paid by their country, or by Saudi Arabia, and so are dependent on whoever pays them. They follow their paymasters.

In Al-Azhar [the world’s most prestigious Islamic university, based in Egypt], they teach whatever the governor wants, because they are paid and even nominated by the government.

So this French imam told me: There are more than 1,000 imams, not always, coming to this center. It’s a very good step. The teaching is in French with Arabic, and, normally, the preaching should be in the language of the country.

To take, as a good example, from my own country: All the imams are severely controlled, not only by the police, but by other imams and people who know Islam. If they say something aggressive or extremist, they stop [him] and forbid him to preach. In other countries, they ask to see the text [of speeches] before, because we know in Muslim countries how the mosque can influence people, and if it’s in a bad way, the government is also responsible. It would be good for Muslims and the nation to have some control. You will not be able to do this for everyone, but if there’s one imam pushing for war or aggression, you could say: “Please control him.”


But if Islam doesn’t have a central authority to enforce this kind of control, that presents a problem?

Yes, this is a problem. But even if there’s no separate authority, if the preaching I’m giving is against the general norms, I should go back to the traditional norms of the country.

If it’s against those, then you’re not building up your people to be good citizens and to be happy. The goal is to make these people happy and good, and so on.

Here in Rome, we have many Chinese shops that sell everything. No one is doing anything against the law. This is education, and this is the first ethical education: You do what you have to do, and you respect the laws. Muslims in Europe are from another culture and are not prepared to accept a different culture. They see this difference as negative.


But it’s argued that, for Muslims to really get out of their situation, they need to convert to Christ and become Christians. What do you say to this view?

I disagree with that. Experience tells me it’s not so, because I know, in my school in Cairo, a Jesuit school, a third of the classroom was Muslim. Today, it’s more than half.

I meet all my old friends, whether they are Muslims or Christians: They think exactly as I think, and they are Muslims. It could be that, through a Christian education, they discovered some positive aspects, and they give a greater emphasis to this aspect to their faith. But I’m not issuing any propaganda. If someone wants to be Christian, he’s welcome — if he really wants to be, really.

The problem of Islam (and other religions) is that they put everything together under the name of Islam. When you say Islam, it means you eat like that, you dress like that, you walk with this one and not that one. Everything comes from God, they think.

We have something like that in the Old Testament, but most Jews — not all of them — would say, “This was normal at that time, at the time of Moses 3,000 years ago or more. It was normal to be like that. But, today, I’m not going against God if I say this is a cultural question not a religious one.”


Returning to the recent attacks in Paris and Africa, can we expect more acts of violence like this in the future?

With ISIS, anything is possible. They have their aim, which is to destroy those who don’t think like them, even if they are Muslims.

If we go back to the Middle East, the war is not between Muslims and non-Muslims; it’s between Muslims and Muslims. Essentially, it’s between the Sunna, who are the majority, and the Shia, who are maybe 15% in the area. The other are 85%. And the Sunna consider the Shia to be heretical, and some would say unbelievers, while the Shia are usually more open-minded. This is my experience.

So, the fact is that the war is internal, within Islam. Occasionally, they attack Christians, Yazidi and others. The West is not the first aim; the West will come later. They start with their own area. We see what is happening with the Kurds, who are Sunna. They attack them because they have their own system. and they are not really observing the sharia [Islamic law] as the other would like.

Again, the problem is fanaticism. If everything is seen as dictated by God through the imams, that everything must be done this way or that, that even the veil is a way to distinguish one group from another, then this is no more life [with freedom].


Do you see this not changing?

In my short life, I’ll be 77 in two days, I am seeing it changing. We [Arabs] were much more open in my youth, much more than we are today. I hope that we will go back to this openness, but it will not happen with this fundamentalist mentality.

The question is to be able to say: “Follow your belief, but leave others to freely live theirs as they want, even if you think they are sinners by doing that.” It means distinguishing between ethics and law.

Personally, as with the majority of people in the world, I believe homosexuality is not a normal thing, that we are created for heterosexuality. This is my conviction. But it does not mean that homosexuality is a crime — a delictus — and that it is against the law. If so, there is no more liberty. We have to defend the liberty even of doing something wrong.

To conclude, we have to help Muslims to integrate themselves when they live in the West, and every step that could be done by the governments or groups to help them is a positive step for everyone. They are our brothers, they come from a difficult context, and we have to help them, without saying they are different and can do whatever they want. I have, at the same time, to say: “Look, this and that are our norms here. I will help you to know what are our norms and laws; if you can’t accept them, then go back somewhere else, where you will find your life, your freedom, your respect. But here, you have to observe the common law of this country.”

Clarity helps people to make the right choice, freely!

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Heads to Sri Lanka for Interreligious Dialogue



Pope Francis leaves today for a grueling week-long tour of Sri Lanka and the Philippines, during which he is expected to encourage peace and reconciliation, console victims of a catastrophic natural disaster, and promote interreligious harmony.
Francis’ 7th and longest apostolic visit outside of Italy will also include the canonization of Sri Lanka’s first saint, three open-air Masses and possible references to the dangers of climate change.
The apostolic voyage comes exactly 20 years after Pope St. John Paul II made a similar visit to the two countries. Pope Paul VI also visited both nations in 1970 — a visit overshadowed by an attempting stabbing of the late pontiff which left him with superficial wounds. Security for this visit, like any other papal visit, is expected to be tight.
The Pope will leave Rome Monday evening and take an overnight flight to Colombo, arriving at 9 a.m. Tuesday. He will be welcomed by President-elect Maithripala Sirisena who surprisingly won last week’s presidential elections. Defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa had gambled on calling for an early election, a decision which upset the Holy See as it had already confirmed the papal visit and prefers to avoid election periods to minimize political exploitation of the Pope.
Sri Lanka is a very religious country and has suffered in recent years from tensions between Buddhists, the country’s largest religious group, and Muslims. Francis will plead for dialogue and peaceful coexistence at a meeting with interreligious leaders Tuesday, attended by Buddhists, Hindus, as well as Muslims of Sinhalese and Tamil ethnicities.
The Pope will also visit the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, the most-visited Catholic site in the country, located in the heart of where a bloody 30-year civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese was fought until its violent end in 2009.
The church played “an important role” in helping to end the hostilities, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters Wednesday, stressing that Catholics belong to both Tamil and Singhalese ethnicities. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, told me last week that bringing a “true spirit of reconciliation” between the two sides is one of Sri Lanka’s “main challenges” as “signs of intense suspicion and fear” remain.
“It is compounded on the one side by the lack of a clear plan to engage in a process of dialogue between them and to seek a mutually acceptable solution and, on the other, through a spirit of fear on the part of the Tamils, that their traditional habitats are being deprived to them,” he said.
He added that the Tamils’ aspiration to live in peace “is being eroded, while the majority-Sinhalese community, too, feels fearful that there is an international conspiracy to divide their homeland, their only little corner of the earth, and to throw them out — a conspiracy that they feel is being fostered by the former LTTE guerilla group [Tamil Tigers] now living in exile in the west and enjoying the support of the powerful Western nations.” Ranjith believes a “spirit of give and take” is required of both sides as well as a need to “strengthen interreligious harmony and cooperation.”
A further highlight of the Sri Lanka trip will be Pope Francis’ canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz a 17th-century missionary from Goa, India, who saved the Sri Lankan Catholic Church from destruction at the hands of Dutch colonial rulers.
Ranjith has high hopes for the visit, noting that Francis is “much loved” by the people. His non-European nationality helps them to detach the papacy from the colonialism of the past, and view him as “one of their own,” he said.
After a six-hour flight, Francis will arrive in Manila on Wednesday evening and face an intense program the next morning that will include a speech to diplomats, a visit with bishops and clergy, and a meeting with families.
The following day will be devoted to visiting Tacloban, a region devastated by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 that cost 7,000-8,000 lives and affected 15 million people. More than 100,000 people are expected to greet the Pope who will celebrate Mass there and dine with some 30 survivors of the typhoon.
The Pope is expected to make remarks about the environment, ahead of his encyclical to be published later this year which is address the subject of climate change among other issues.
On Jan. 18, Francis will have a brief meeting with the country’s religious leaders, followed by a meeting with up to 30,000 young people. The day will end with an open-air Mass at the same location where Pope St. John Paul II celebrated World Youth Day in 1995 and attracted between 4 and 5 million faithful.
Pope Francis has a keen interest in Asia, a continent Benedict XVI was unable to visit during his pontificate. Addressing diplomats today at the Vatican, Francis said he was making the visit “as a sign of my interest and pastoral concern” for the people of the continent.
“To them and to their governments I wish to voice yet again the desire of the Holy See to offer its own contribution of service to the common good, to harmony and social concord,” he said.

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Busy Schedule Awaits Pope Francis on His Sri Lanka-Philippines Voyage


AP photo/Eranga Jayawardena

VATICAN CITY — Fostering reconciliation after a bloody civil war, consoling many affected by a catastrophic natural disaster and promoting interreligious dialogue will be some of Pope Francis’ most important tasks when he embarks for Sri Lanka and the Philippines on Monday.

The Holy Father’s seventh and longest apostolic visit outside of Italy will also include the canonization of Sri Lanka’s first saint, three open-air Masses and dining with survivors of a devastating typhoon in the Philippines.

Francis’ apostolic voyage comes exactly 20 years after Pope St. John Paul II made a similar visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Blessed Paul VI also visited both countries in 1970.

The trip, covering tens of thousands of miles over an eight-day period, begins in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Monday.

Arriving at 9am, after an 11-hour overnight flight, the Holy Father will deliver the first of 11 discourses and homilies during the week, all of which will be in English, as when he visited South Korea in 2014. The Vatican says he may switch to Italian or Spanish for unscripted remarks.


New President

After meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops at the apostolic nunciature in the capital (the Pope will not address the episcopate, as he recently met the bishops on their ad limina visit), Francis will transfer to the presidential palace in the afternoon. President-elect Maithripala Sirisena will welcome Pope Francis on his visit to Sri Lanka, as outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reportedly already left the presidential palace. There will be no papal address at that time.

Rajapaksa, who unexpectedly lost a Jan. 8 presidential election, has promised a “smooth transition of power.” The 69-year-old leader, who is credited with ending the country’s 30-year civil war and who had dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade, called for an early poll after the papal visit had been confirmed, thereby placing the papal trip in jeopardy.

The Holy See prefers to avoid election periods to minimize political exploitation of the Pope. But after much discussion among officials, and despite the threat of unrest in a closely contested poll, it was decided the visit should go ahead.

In the evening, the Pope will meet interreligious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial Conference Hall in Colombo, where he will give an address. Papal spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi said the country is “very religious,” and popes have attributed “great importance” to the meeting in the past.

Buddhists, Hindus, as well as Muslims of Singhalese and Tamil ethnicities, will be present and a Buddhist monk will address the gathering, as Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in the country.


Canonization of Joseph Vaz

The second of the Pope’s two full days in Sri Lanka will begin with the canonization Mass of Blessed Joseph Vaz. Beatified in 1995 by St. John Paul II, Joseph Vaz was a 17th-century missionary from Goa, India, who went to evangelize the people of the island-nation. The priest is known as the “Apostle of Ceylon,” the name for Sri Lanka until 1972.

The Pope will then transfer by helicopter to pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, the most-visited shrine in the country. There, he will underline the importance of reconciliation, following in the face of the civil war between Tamils and Singhalese, much of which took place in the north, where the shrine is located.

The Church played “an important role” in achieving peace, Father Lombardi said, given that Catholics belong to both Tamil and Singhalese ethnicities. Among those present at the ceremony will be Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo. The Holy Father will return to the Sri Lankan capital in the evening.

On the morning of Jan. 15, the Pope will make a brief visit to the chapel of Our Lady of Lanka in Colombo, where he will pray for peace in the country. After a farewell ceremony at the airport, he will depart on a Sri Lankan Airlines plane for the Philippines — the largest Catholic country in Asia.


Arrival in Manila

The six-hour flight will have him arriving at Villamor Air Base in Manila at 6:45pm, where he will attend an official welcoming ceremony. He will not be giving any discourses that day, but may grant an airborne press conference, Father Lombardi said.

On Jan. 16, the Pope is scheduled for an intense schedule: First, he will be welcomed at the presidential palace and visit President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. Francis will then meet with public authorities and the diplomatic corps in the palace, where he will deliver a discourse.

Soon after, he will celebrate Mass with bishops, priests and religious at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila. The cathedral has suffered much tribulation over the years, due to wars and natural disasters, and has been renovated eight times.

After Mass, the Pope will meet with and address families. The Vatican spokesman stressed the importance of the encounter, as it will encompass different testimonies from family groups regarding poverty, migration and physical disabilities. The first to welcome him will be a 100-year-old woman, along with one of her great-grandsons.


Typhoon-Affected Region

Jan. 17 will be devoted to visiting Tacloban, a region devastated by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 that cost 7,000-8,000 lives and affected 15 million people. More than 100,000 people are expected to greet the Holy Father, who will take a one-hour flight there. He will celebrate Mass next to Tacloban International Airport and then lunch at the archbishop’s palace, with some 30 survivors of the typhoon, each of whom has been “deeply affected” by the disaster, Father Lombardi said.

The Pope will then bless a new center for the poor and homeless, set up after the typhoon and funded by Cor Unum, the Pope’s charitable arm. Later that afternoon, he will meet with priests, religious, seminarians and families of typhoon survivors at the cathedral of Palo, where he will deliver a discourse. He will fly back to Manila afterwards.

On Jan. 18, Francis will have a brief meeting with the country’s religious leaders, followed by a meeting with up to 30,000 young people. Three young people will give testimonies: a formerly homeless girl, a student studying communications at the local university and a volunteer who helped recovery efforts during the typhoon.

The day will end with an open-air Mass at the same location where Pope St. John Paul II celebrated World Youth Day in 1995 and attracted between 4 and 5 million faithful. The Mass will be celebrated on the feast day of Holy Nino (Baby Jesus), a very popular feast in the Philippines.

President Aquino will attend the Holy Father’s farewell ceremonies at the airport in Manila. He is slated to arrive back in Rome at 5:40pm on Jan. 19.


Encyclical ‘Not Imminent’

Father Lombardi said that, during the trip, the Pope will probably address environmental issues, themes that will be included in the Holy Father’s next encyclical.

When asked when the document will be published, the Vatican spokesman said it is “not imminent,” but that it can be expected “before the summer.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Confraternities of Catholic Clergy Reaffirm Church’s Teaching on Marriage and the Family


2013 CNA/Lauren Cater

VATICAN CITY — A large group of clergy from English-speaking countries have unanimously reaffirmed their support for Church teaching on marriage and the family, implicitly rejecting proposals at the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family that the Church alter pastoral practice and doctrine in this area.

In a statement issued at the end of a five-day conference in Rome Jan. 5-9, the Confraternities of Catholic Clergy in the United States, Australia, Britain and Ireland said they pledged their “unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, as proclaimed in the word of God and set out clearly in the Church’s ordinary and universal magisterium.”

During last October’s extraordinary synod on the family, controversy erupted when attempts were made to promote changes in pastoral practice concerning marriage and human sexuality.

Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany was a lightning rod, suggesting in a keynote speech that launched the synodal process, that the Church should allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Opponents argued that such changes would not be consistent with the Church’s doctrine.

Controversy also focused on elements of the synod document that addressed pastoral practices dealing with homosexuality and cohabitation.

Having discussed issues pertinent to the upcoming second synod on the family, to take place in October this year, and responding “to the Holy Father’s call for reflection,” the priests stressed their commitment to “presenting anew the Good News about marriage and family life in all its fullness and helping, with the Lord’s compassion, those who struggle to follow the Gospel in a secular society.”

The priests also affirmed the “importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments and that doctrine and practice must remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.”

The confraternities, who represent nearly 1,000 priests in Anglophone countries, told the Register they believe the statement is clear and charitable, but fair, and expresses the sense among “many Catholic priests” of the issues discussed at the synod. They also said that such a “united expression of orthodoxy” gives them “joy and hope.”

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in the United States is based in San Diego. Its president is frequent EWTN contributor Father John Trigilio.


Cardinal Burke’s Homily

During his homily at a Mass for the priests in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 9, Cardinal Raymond Burke encouraged them not to give up.

The patron of the Knights of Malta said the “frighteningly troubled times in which we live surely make us more conscious of the great and seemingly overwhelming struggle” that priests today are facing.

“Confusion and error about the most fundamental truths of the moral law lead our culture into a greater and evermore self-destructive corruption,” the American cardinal said.

Cardinal Burke added, “The Church exists to call the culture to conversion and to transform it, but in the struggle to row the boat of the Church against the troubled waters of the confusion and error which surround us, there is the temptation to give up and let the boat move with the times, with the result that the same confusion and error enters into the very life of the Church.”

But he said that, at the same time, “it is the occasion to set aside our useless self-pity and fear and recognize that Christ is alive in our midst, that he comes to us upon the deeply troubled waters through which we are called to navigate the boat of this mystical body.”

Cardinal Burke invited the priests to “strive every day” to give their lives completely to Christ and to be confident that, “with Christ,” the turbulent waters become “navigable.”

And he stressed that the strength to meet today’s challenges, teach the truth of the faith and minister the saving mysteries to the faithful “comes solely from the holy Eucharist, from our union with Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice and our communion with him in his body, blood, soul and divinity.”

He concluded, “If the reality of the priestly office, as it must be exercised in the present time of profound confusion and error, instills in us an understandable fear, we must at the same moment open our eyes to behold Christ, walking toward us on the turbulent waters, and open our ears to hear his voice coming from his Eucharistic heart: ‘Courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.’”

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, was among the conference speakers. He underlined that the mission of the Church needs a clear and unambiguous witness to Christ.

“The Confraternities of Catholic Clergy, in their service to the Church and the world, are committed to prophetic witness, which challenges contemporary culture,” the priests said in a closing statement. “We share the Holy Father’s care and concern for the family and pray that the upcoming synod enables the Church to more effectively proclaim Christ’s vision of marriage and family.”



Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Links to the confraternities:

United States:




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Standard-Bearers for NFP


ROME — The Billings ovulation method of family planning has long been regarded as a highly effective and ethical means of achieving and avoiding pregnancy.

The Church supports the Billings method and other ways of natural family planning (NFP) because they respect God’s design for married love.

According to “Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning,” a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “these methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. … NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife” (p. 23).

Marian Corkill, a long-serving Australian teacher of the Billings method, said, “The Catholic Church certainly approves of it, but so do all people of all faiths, because it doesn’t do any harm and respects nature, the natural law. … It’s a method suitable for all women and all couples. It’s not just purely for Catholics. It respects the way God created us.”

Yet, despite the Billings method of NFP being discovered more than 60 years ago by married doctors John and Evelyn Billings, relatively few in the West are aware of it. Taking a break from a recent conference in Rome, Corkill and fellow Aussie and Billings specialist Marie Marshell discussed with Edward Pentin, the Register’s Rome correspondent, the effectiveness of the method, why it’s relatively unknown compared to artificial contraception and in vitro fertilization (IVF), which the Church has called objectively immoral, and the significant impact it has had in China.


Marian, could you tell us a little about the Billings method and your work for it?

The Billings method was developed by John and Lynn Billings from Melbourne and was the beginning of understanding the significance of the mucus, with regard to fertility. It was John Billings who actually discovered that this was significant and is tied to fertility; and that was more than 60 years ago. He spread the method throughout the world.

This is a natural-family-planning method based on mucus secretion, and because of our scientific understanding, we’ve grown in comprehending the significance of the mucus and how it relates to different levels of hormones throughout the cycle.


The method is known internationally, but which nations have embraced it most?

Well, it’s really spread throughout the world, so [it’s present on] virtually every continent. The Billingses spent many years traveling the world, teaching this method, and spent a lot of their time, their final years, really, working in China. The Billings method has had great success in China, and Marie Marshell was the leader of the teaching team in China, along with John and Lynn Billings.

We’ve spent time in South America. We’ve visited Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay to run programs. There was a big international conference in Brazil, so it’s something wonderful for the world. People just need to be told about it.


Most people, certainly in the West, will talk about IVF and contraception but will rarely talk about the Billings method or other natural-family-planning methods. Why has the Billings method not become mainstream, given its international success?

I think it’s because there’s no money to be made out of this, so it’s very difficult to have the ability to spread the information when you’re trying to do it on a shoestring budget. It virtually has to be spread by word of mouth.

When John Billings started it, it was to help couples avoid pregnancy who had a medical reason and those who had a serious problem planning their family. But, very quickly, it became obvious that it could help couples who were having difficulty conceiving. And our understanding of it now is that it can be charted using diagnostic tools, so we believe we’ve got very reliable indicators for women to help them to protect their reproductive health — a three-pronged way of helping women. So it’s something that’s just wonderful for couples, but it’s very difficult to get that message out.


Looking to the future, what hopes do you have for the method and for sharing its benefits?

We believe we’re sitting on the world’s best-kept secret. We hope that one day the world will wake up and realize there is something much better than what they’ve got. Nobody’s happy with contraception. There are all sorts of issues associated with contraception that concern people. Nobody’s happy with abortion, nobody wants to be killing babies, [but] they just don’t know this [method] is available.

In Kenya, where we’ve just come from, people were so responsive to what we had to offer; they could see [its effectiveness]. There were many men and priests in the group who were training to become teachers. Wherever we go, we get a very positive response.

In Australia, we do a lot of work with medical people, doctors, and provide medical education to doctors. We present the Billings method, and we never get any negativity.


One question mark some might have is over its effectiveness. Is this a challenge to overcome?

We don’t think there’s any question mark over its effectiveness. All the studies that have been done — well-controlled studies — show the method to have been 98%-99% effective. Regarding achieving pregnancy, we haven’t got the actual figures, but we do know, from a retrospective study in Australia, that we got a 78% success rate of all couples coming to us to achieve a pregnancy. So we believe, from the achieving-pregnancy point of view, that, if every woman who was having difficulty conceiving was able to understand the Billings method, we would be able to eliminate a lot of heartache when they have to go through much more interventionist attempts to have a baby.


Marie, could you share with us how the Billings method is being received in China?

In the 1990s, John Billings first sought permission to come to China to teach the method, and a lot of people were saying: “Why do you want to go to China? They’re doing terrible things there to women and babies.” But because John and Lynn were both doctors, they said they wanted to go to China because “we’ve got an answer to their problems.”

Initially, they were suspicious that we had anything positive to offer. But, within two years, we had thousands of trained Billings teachers in China, because it just grew. It went from province to province, and people were requesting that we come back.

We went to many provinces; and after two years of going to China, they conducted their own trial without any involvement from us, just from their teachers, and they got this success rate of more than 99% of couples avoiding pregnancy.

In villages where the Billings method was known, there was a sevenfold decrease in abortions. So it had that other effect: of couples being stewards of their fertility and not running the risk of having an abortion.


So the method has helped reduce the large numbers of forced abortions in China?

Certainly, an understanding of fertility helps to avoid the unplanned pregnancy, so there’s a very positive aspect to it. We’ve had people in our training programs who come to us with tears in their eyes saying: “My daughter will not suffer as we have suffered because of this knowledge.” They have had four, five, six or seven abortions. So this is a reality of what they’re living through.

Initially, we went to China under the auspices of family planning, but, very quickly, the Chinese authorities realized this was a health issue; so we then went under the label of “health” as well as “family planning.” Their programs are still being conducted in China through our trained Catholic teachers in different Catholic parishes in different parts of China. So it’s still at a grassroots level.


How would you like to see the method better promoted in the West?

As Marian was saying, because it doesn’t cost anything, it’s very difficult to counter the culture, where drug companies have a lot of money to spend, promoting what they’ve got.

All we’ve got is knowledge of the body that every woman ought to have. So the difficulties communicating this to a rather cynical population is a challenge, but there are programs throughout America and all over the world. They are working very diligently to give couples, and women and girls in particular, this information, so they’ll make good life choices.

We’re also teaching through the Internet, through correspondence, where people are trying to access the method. People aren’t coming to us necessarily for moral reasons, but because people are tired of hormonal control of their lives in all sorts of ways.

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Vatican Responds in Forceful Fashion to Paris Terrorist Attack



VATICAN CITY — Three separate papal statements and a joint communiqué from the Holy See and French imams have made up an unusually forceful reaction from the Vatican in response to yesterday’s terrorist attack in the French capital.

At the beginning of his homily at daily Mass this morning at his St. Martha residence, Pope Francis condemned the atrocity carried out by Islamist terrorists, saying the Paris terror attack “makes us think of so much cruelty, human cruelty, of so much terrorism, both isolated incidents of terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism.”

He added: “What great cruelty man is capable of! Let us pray at this Mass for the victims of this cruelty. So many! And let us also pray for the perpetrators of this cruelty, that the Lord might grant them a change of heart.”

Twelve people, including two policemen, one of whom was Muslim, were murdered by three masked gunmen yesterday at the offices of the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The dead also included cartoonists for the stridently anti-religious, anti-establishment magazine, as well as visitors to the Paris office.

The publication had become famous in recent years for publishing inflammatory cartoons ridiculing Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. In 2011, its offices were firebombed.

On Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement in which he said Pope Francis expressed “the strongest condemnation of the horrific attack” and that, in prayer, he “shared in the suffering of the wounded and the families of the deceased.”

The communiqué added that the Pope “calls upon all to oppose by every means possible the spread of hatred and all forms of violence, both physical and moral, which destroy human life, violate the dignity of the person and radically undermine the fundamental good of peaceful coexistence between individuals and peoples, despite differences of nationality, religion and culture.”

“Whatever the motives may be, homicidal violence is abhorrent,” the Vatican statement continued. “It is never justifiable. The life and dignity of all must be resolutely guaranteed and protected. Any incitement to hatred should be rejected. Respect for the other must be cultivated.”

The statement ended by stressing the Pope’s closeness, spiritual solidarity and support “for all those who, according to their different responsibilities, continue to steadfastly work for peace, justice and rights, to heal in depth the sources and causes of hatred, at this painful and tragic moment in France and in every part of the world marked by tensions and violence.”


Message to the French People

Through Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, the Holy Father also issued a telegram to the French people on Thursday, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and promising prayers for the victims, their loved ones and for all the French people.

The telegram, sent to Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, said the Pope “joins in prayer with the pain of the bereaved families and the sadness of all the French.” Entrusting the victims to God, “full of mercy, praying that he might welcome them into his light,” the Pope expressed in the statement his deepest sympathies to the injured and to their families, “asking the Lord to give them comfort and consolation in their ordeal.”

“The Holy Father reiterates his condemnation of the violence, which generates so much suffering, and, imploring God to give the gift of peace, he assures the affected families and all the French the benefit of divine blessings,” the telegram concluded.

The Pope also had a pre-arranged private meeting on Thursday with Cardinal Vingt-Trois, during which the atrocity will certainly have been discussed.

Also on Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the French president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, along with four French imams, who were at the Vatican for yesterday’s papal general audience, said they shared the words of Pope Francis on the attack in condemning the cruel and blind violence.

“Like him, we invite believers to manifest friendship,” they said in a statement, adding that, in these circumstances, “it should be noted that, without freedom of expression, the world is in danger.”

Religious leaders are called to further encourage a “culture of peace and hope,” they said, “able to overcome fear and to build bridges between people.”

They added that, “considering the impact of the media,” they wished to invite their leaders “to provide information respectful of religions, their followers and their practices, thus promoting a culture of encounter.”

Interreligious dialogue, they affirmed, “is the only way to go forward together to dispel prejudice.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Sri Lankan Cardinal Prepares to Welcome Pope Francis


2011 CNA/Alan Holdren

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis arrives in Sri Lanka on Monday where, within his itinerary, he plans to promote reconciliation in a country that, until recently, was stricken by a bloody 30-year civil war.

To find out more about the two-day visit, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo and president of the island-nation’s bishops’ conference, shared his comments with the Register via email Jan. 7 on what the visit will mean to the Sri Lankan people, the challenges he would like the Holy Father to address and concerns over unexpected presidential elections on Jan. 8 that have threatened to clash with the visit.


What are your expectations for the Holy Father’s visit to your country?

The Holy Father represents for us the tangible expression of God’s own loving concern for the Church and for humanity. He loved us on the cross and established the community of his disciples, the Church, as the vehicle that would carry this message of love to the whole world. He appointed St. Peter as the first apostle and the one who took his place, entrusting to him specially the task of “strengthening the brethren” in that mission of love. The visit of Pope Francis, who, for us, is the partaker in the role of Peter, would encourage us to be stronger in our commitment as disciples of Christ to work to transform the world from sin, selfishness and desperation to one of freedom, selflessness and joy.

More than at any other time, we in Sri Lanka need to become a Church that reflects such joy, enthusiastic commitment to love and service of everyone else and to the call to be the leaven of transformation in our society. The Holy Father’s visit would thus be a catalyst for such a transforming commitment in us.


What has the Sri Lankan Church been doing to prepare for the visit, and how is the country feeling generally about the apostolic trip?

Ever since we became aware of the possibility of such a visit, we have been preparing enthusiastically for it. Much more than the technical preparations, the local Church has been electrified by a spirit of joyful expectation and has united itself strongly, across all human barriers, to prepare for this visit spiritually. We have had a continuous program of catechesis on the matter, prayer, special spiritual programs, animation through the mass media and campaigns of awareness building.

We also have kept all of our non-Catholic fellow citizens informed of the visit, conducted programs of awareness-building among them on the Church, its history, both local and universal, the papacy and its central role in the spiritual service of the world.

The Sri Lankans as a whole, of all religions and linguistic and cultural groups, have enthusiastically welcomed the visit. They hold Pope Francis in great esteem and are eagerly awaiting to see him.

Another factor that makes this visit so important for Sri Lanka is the forthcoming canonization of our own apostle and saint, the 17th-century missionary from India who saved our Church from extinction at the hands of the Dutch colonial rulers, Blessed Joseph Vaz. The Holy Father approved this canonization and fixed it for Jan. 14, which means that he will canonize the saint during the visit.


What challenges is Sri Lanka facing that you would like Pope Francis to address?

One of the main challenges we face in Sri Lanka is the lack of a true spirit of reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil populations in the aftermath of the 30-year tragic war. There still are signs of intense suspicion and fear between these two groups.

It is compounded on the one side by the lack of a clear plan to engage in a process of dialogue between them and to seek a mutually acceptable solution and, on the other, through a spirit of fear on the part of the Tamils, that their traditional habitats are being deprived to them. [They feel] their aspiration to live in peace, safeguarding their own identity, is being eroded, while the majority-Sinhalese community, too, feels fearful that there is an international conspiracy to divide their homeland, their only little corner of the earth, and to throw them out — a conspiracy that they feel is being fostered by the former LTTE guerilla group [Tamil Tigers] now living in exile in the west and enjoying the support of the powerful Western nations.

It is a situation that needs a spirit of give and take from both sides in order to work out a settlement. Politicians on both sides of the divide are not allowing this to happen, as they are unwilling to reach out to the other side in a spirit of large-heartedness and a give-and-take process, which would be the best way out.

Secondly, there is a need to further strengthen interreligious harmony and cooperation between the adherents of the main religious groups. At times, there are tensions created due, in part, to the activities of aggressive proselytism carried out by the Christian fundamentalist sects. As a result, there is pressure on the part of those of the majority religious community to introduce legislation to ban proselytism by unethical means. These attempts, though to some extent justified, do create suspicion and fear in the minds of the minority religious communities and could lead to division. That needs to be prevented or controlled.


Some controversy has surrounded the visit, regarding a clash with presidential elections. What are the dangers of the visit coming so soon after the Jan. 8 vote, and what is being done to lessen possible problems?

When the idea of a visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka was first mooted, there were no indications of these elections, as the incumbent president had three more years of stewardship ahead of him. Yet, after everything had been already planned, the elections were announced. This situation caused a tremendous embarrassment to us. Yet the bishops did meet with the two leading candidates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main opponent, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, and they both assured us that whoever wins the election they would ensure that nothing will disturb the program of the visit.

Indeed, I have continued to meet both candidates and to keep them updated about all the developments of the visit. Both have assured us that they will help in every way possible. Besides, the bishops’ conference has also made a public appeal for a free and fair election and for the cooperation of everyone to make the visit a success. Generally, everyone here is enthusiastically awaiting the Pope, and many feel that the visit would even help to smooth the post-election tensions, if any.


How much is the faith growing in Sri Lanka, and how much can this be attributed to the Holy Father, the “Francis Effect” and his non-Eurocentric background?

The Holy Father is much loved, appreciated and respected by the Catholics, as well as by all our people, irrespective of religious differences. His people-friendly and simple ways have made him very much a role model for a religious leader. It has also helped to strengthen the Catholic community. His visit has also helped to unite the Catholic community across the linguistic and cultural divide, especially the Sinhala and Tamil Catholics.

The Pope is not considered by our people as a European, but as one of their own. This helps to open up the hearts of everyone to receive him cordially. It also helps to give a positive image to the Catholic Church and the papacy in Sri Lanka, which, because of colonial-era experiences in the past, has not always seen these two institutions positively. This visit will, then, help to heal that memory, to some extent.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Order of Friars Minor Face ‘Grave’ Financial Problems


The General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor has driven the most prominent branch of the Franciscans to near-financial ruin because of a series of poor investments and general financial mismanagement.

In a letter sent to its members Dec. 17, Indianapolis-born Brother Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscan order since May 2013, revealed that an internal investigation begun in September 2014 found the order’s General Curia to be in a “grave” situation, thus putting the entire order at risk.

“I underscore ‘grave’ financial difficulty,” he wrote, and explained this has been caused by systems of management and oversight that have been “either too weak or were compromised.”

He also blamed the dire situation on a “number of questionable financial activities” that were conducted by friars “entrusted with the care of the patrimony” of the order, but “without the full knowledge or consent” of the former or current board of advisers.

Brother Perry further noted “the significant role that external actors, people who are not members of the order, have played in creating this grave situation.”

The financial difficulties, which the Register has learned include debts amounting to $37 million, have transpired despite the Order of Friars Minor possessing a substantial patrimony that includes custody of all the main Christian holy sites in the Holy Land.

Much of the blame has been assigned the Order’s general treasurer, Father Giancarlo Lati. Brother Perry said Father Lati has resigned and been replaced by the assistant general treasurer and two friars, one of whom has “expertise in economic and organizational affairs.” They began their efforts to clean up the financial situation in October.

Informed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have also said Brother Perry’s predecessor, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, must share some of the blame. Most of the financial mismanagement occurred under his watch, before he was made Secretary at the Congregation for Religious in 2013.

The financial problems have come to light now because Brother Perry is thought to naturally want to put a distance between himself and his predecessor, given that the malpractice occurred before he took over as minister general last year.

The Register has learned that one investment that has allegedly squandered millions of dollars from the OFMs is a plush hotel just outside the Vatican walls called Il Cantico (The Canticle). Father Lati reportedly took charge of running it himself, including overseeing expensive renovations. A source close to the Vatican remarked dryly: “That’s not the most holy sacrifice to place on the altar of lady poverty.”

In Dec. 22 comments to the Register, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a former president of the Vatican Bank whose attempts to clean up Vatican finances led to his sudden and largely unexplained dismissal in 2012, said he knows little about the Franciscans’ finances except what he’s read in the newspapers. But he added: “The problem with religious orders is that they do not know how to administer resources and rely on ‘scoundrels’ who prey on them.”

Catholic observers are now wondering why a religious order, particularly the Franciscans with its tradition of material detachment, is making such speculative investments.

The Register tried to contact Archbishop Rodriguez for comment but he was unavailable.

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Cardinal Parolin Blesses North American College’s New Annex


CNA/Bohumil Petrik

ROME — The Vatican Secretary of State today blessed a new annex for pastoral and spiritual classes at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome, describing the gleaming 10-floor facility as a “sign of great hope.”

Speaking to the Register after celebrating Mass in the college chapel on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Cardinal Pietro Parolin marveled at the increase in vocations across areas of the United States that prompted the construction of the new facility.

“I believe it is a good sign — a sign of great hope,” he said. “The monsignor [Msgr. James Checchio, the NAC’s rector] was telling me that this increase isn’t coming from all the regions, but the fact that so many young men are preparing for the priesthood is truly a cause of great joy.”

The college, a house of formation for seminarians preparing for priesthood ordination in the dioceses of the United States, has been full-to-capacity for the past four years in a row and currently has 252 seminarians.

The new building — the first substantial addition to the NAC since Pope Pius XII blessed it in 1953 — encompasses 36,000 square feet and will provide the seminary with more accessible offices, meeting spaces and spacious, bright classrooms for pastoral and spiritual instruction.

It also houses a chapel for private prayer, sound-proof rooms for homily and Mass practicums and a reading room offering a sweeping 360-degree view of the city from atop the Janiculum Hill, close to the Vatican.

“It’s good for the men of the college,” Msgr. Checchio told the Register, “providing better facilities and resources to prepare them for the priesthood.”

The new St. John Paul Chapel has stained-glass windows of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, plus St. John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta — both of whom visited the college. It also has windows of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and Venrerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, plus a relic of St. John Paul’s cassock from the day he was shot in St. Peter’s Square.

The new building was a three-year project that took 18 months to build. The original plan was to make it seven stories high, but a reading area and terrace were added, increasing the height by three stories. The result: NAC, situated on part of the Gianiculum hill, has arguably the best view over Rome.


The Mulvas’ Generous Gift

Msgr. Checchio said the project is part of a larger major gifts initiative to continue needed structural improvements to the seminary campus, as well as at the Casa Santa Maria, a house in Rome for American priests pursuing post-graduate degrees.

The construction project, an idea of Msgr. Checchio and Msgr. Daniel Mueggenborg, a former vice rector of admissions at the college, was largely funded by benefactors James and Miriam Mulva of Austin, Texas.

“We talked about this over many years, decided we feel very strongly about the NAC and what’s being done here; and so we decided to support it, build it and make it happen,” James Mulva told the Register.

Asked how their faith motivated them to be so generous with the project, he said, “We feel very strongly about the Catholic faith and the Church. We feel it’s important that we support the young priests.” He added, “We believe in supporting the Catholic Church and supporting education and youth, so it was natural for us.”

Added Miriam Mulva, “We’ve also been very blessed in our lives, with our love for each other and with our family, so it’s important to give back.”

“It’s an obligation to give back,” James Mulva agreed. “And it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Cardinal Parolin dedicated each of the 10 floors, accompanied by cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians, who sang carols.

Among those present were Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat on the Economy, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., chairman of NAC’s board of governors.


The Pope’s U.S. Travel Plans

In comments to CNA at the dedication, Cardinal Parolin also discussed reports that Pope Francis will most likely visit Washington and New York during his September visit to the United States.

Pope Francis announced his trip to the United States on Nov. 17 in an address to members of the Humanum conference. During his visit, the Holy Father will participate in the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Citing informed Vatican sources, the Register reported last month that Francis would address the United Nations and discuss many of the themes he is expected to raise in his forthcoming encyclical on “human ecology.”

Cardinal Parolin told reporters that, “of course,” a papal visit to the nation’s capital city of Washington may be on the agenda, but he stressed that “no official confirmation has been made.”

Said Cardinal Parolin, “I think the Pope will go to United Nations; everybody is speaking about that … but no official announcement has been delivered.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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